Being economical with the truth

For the first time ever, I think, Grimsby Town’s transfer activity on deadline day stopped me from going to bed at a sensible hour. I actually went to sleep believing that Omar Bogle was still our player, but woke up this morning to find he is not.

No one knows how much Wigan paid for him, or what kind of deal we negotiated, or how well Solihull did out of the whole thing. I’m sure this will all become clear once the Fishy has speculated to such a degree that it either drives one of the shareholders to put the issue to bed with a badly written club statement, or Wigan relax and let us know from their end.

Anyway, good luck Omar – you did us proud. That winner you got at Braintree in the play-off semi final second leg was a moment I’ll never forget, and those two goals in the play-off final at Wembley still give me goosebumps, as well as a glimpse into what football heaven is really like.

I can live with his departure. We always knew he would go for a fee, and him going now means we probably got more money than we’d have got if we held onto him until the summer.

The cash will surely be used to cover the transfer fees and wages of our eight new additions – Adi Yussuf, Gavin Gunning, Jamey Osborne, Chris Clements, Akwasi Asante, Luke Maxwell, Sam Jones and Calum Dyson.

So, eight in, one out – although I expect more than just Bogle will be heading out of ‘the BP’ in the next week or two as the shunned squad players contemplate the prospect of not even warming the bench but sitting on a standard plastic seat in the stands like the rest of us. Or staying at home.

I fully supported the appointment of Marcus Bignot and I still believe things will come good. He hasn’t made that bad a start as Mariners boss, on a points-per-game basis, although it is worrying to see the standard of our performances dropping when really they should’ve started badly and gradually improved as the players got to grips with his new style and system.

He’s made radical changes after initially saying everyone at the club would get a chance to prove themselves with a run in the team. I don’t think he’s delivered on that promise.

He also said Bogle wasn’t for sale, and sold him, and said he wants to keep Disley when he clearly doesn’t intend on using him. Bignot says Disley can leave on his terms, like he’s doing him a favour, and being respectful. Maybe Disley just doesn’t want to go?

And then there’s been that disagreement between him and our loyal first choice keeper. McKeown said the boss made it very clear he wouldn’t play again this season, and Bignot says otherwise. I don’t know who to believe – the person who has been at the club for six years and been as honest as the day is long, or someone who’s been at the club two minutes and already lied about a number of things.

I say ‘lied’. I’m not sure it’s quite that bad. Let’s just say Bignot is economical with the truth, and knows what the fans want to hear. It’s strange, because our last manager had no idea what the fans wanted to hear, and he was often hammered for it.

The manager claims we don’t have any width in midfield. He didn’t include the only two players capable of offering width, Bolarinwa or Chambers, in his latest squad of 18, then tells Chambers he’s free to leave.

Then he signs four central midfielders when we already have six on our books, three strikers and a centre back – and no wingers.

It’s just odd. I don’t know what to make of it all.

This was meant to be a season of celebration and stability. We’d have all been happy to see the team that got us promoted stay together and continue battling for each other to finish 12th in League 2. I know I would’ve.

But Hurst broke it up more severely than I could’ve expected, and the team he left us with has been broken up severely again just a couple of months on. Those few players who survived the Hurst cull, and the ones we connected with the most – McKeown, Disley, Gowling – are no longer in the side. It seems a shame.

In fact, I just looked at the XI who beat Forest Green on that marvellous day in May and not one of them will start our next match at home to Luton:

McKeown – out of the side and looking to leave
Tait – left for Motherwell
Robertson – released and retired
Gowling – out of the side and told he can leave
Nsiala – left for Hartlepool
Arnold – released and joined Lincoln
Nolan – left for Chesterfield
Clay – released and joined Motherwell
Disley – out of the side and told he can leave
Bogle – sold to Wigan
Amond – left for Hartlepool

Today’s sole survivor is Shaun Pearson, who was only on the bench for the play-off final and came on as an injury time sub:

Pearson – in the side
East – released and joined Guiseley
Marshall – released and joined Boston United
Pittman – released and joined Harrogate Town
Hoban – released and joined Mansfield

I’m not one for living in the past, as the last 15 years haven’t been particularly kind to us. Football moves on, and so should we, but the success of last season was the result of a manager who was given time to build a squad and create a style of play that gave us the best chance possible of winning promotion.

The same has to apply here. Things are messy now, but I’m sure that once everything settles down – and that still might not happen just yet, what with about eight players looking for new clubs – we’ll perhaps begin to see what Bignot is trying to build.

I’m sure he’s a good manager, but it’s difficult to believe anything we’re told right now. If he builds an exciting and attacking squad that gets us scoring plenty of goals and pushing for the play-offs, then there won’t be many complaints.

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Grimsby Town are more likely to hammer teams before Christmas than after

Before I get into the meat of this article, I thought I’d begin with an anecdote – and I’ll keep it short. A couple of weeks ago I was running with my neighbours’ dog in a nearby field at midnight and got wiped out by a branch that hit me square in the left eye.

This story obviously needs some context, as I’m sure there are a number of questions that you want to ask, but I actually believe it’s more entertaining if I leave you to fill in the blanks.

Why on earth was he walking his neighbours’ dog at midnight? And what was he doing running? It left me with an eye that looked as though it had a small plum trying to grow out from behind it, like a weird scene from Alien that never made the final cut.

Anyway, with impaired vision and strict instructions from optometrists not to drive, read books or use screens to avoid straining my good eye, it left me with a frankly disgusting amount of time to think about things.

And after Town’s depressing defeat to part-timers Braintree on Tuesday night it got me thinking about how we never seem able to dispatch teams the way we do before January.

It’s always felt to me like we post big scores in the months before Christmas, and then we sort of nudge past teams from January until the end of the season, with a nervousness that seemingly comes from nowhere (but probably comes from Paul Hurst tinkering with the squad in January, bringing in players, not using them, benching his 30+ goal striker and shutting up shop for a point when we should be going for all three).

So I decided to look into our margins of victory before and after Christmas over the past four seasons (from all competitions) to see if there was a pattern:

  • 2012/13: 2.27 before Christmas, 1.77 after
  • 2013/14: 1.83 before Christmas, 1.36 after
  • 2014/15: 2.19 before Christmas, 1.57 after
  • 2015/16: 2.5 before Christmas, 1.92 after

Yes, I’m aware this season isn’t over yet, but I’ve included the figures as there are only three (possibly six and the FA Trophy final) to go. Also, we tend to play more games before Christmas than after, but I’ve used averages so that should be a fairer way of representing the numbers.

Even I can see – with my one good eye – that our margin of victory drops every season after Christmas. And here are those drops as percentages:

  • 2012/13: 22.1%
  • 2013/14: 25.7%
  • 2014/15: 28.4%
  • 2015:16: 23.2%

That’s a staggeringly consistent average drop of 25%. And here’s another statistic for you: across the four seasons that I’ve analysed, we’ve won by a margin of three goals or more on 35 occasions before Christmas, and just 8 after. As percentages, that’s 35.4% before Christmas, and just 15.7% after.

I’d have thought it would be the other way round; winning cautiously early in the season as the squad takes time to gel and suss out the opposition, and then accelerate in the new year when partnerships have had time to develop.

It’s not a case of us winning fewer matches in the new year – it’s just that we’re not winning them as convincingly, or by the margins that we were from August to December.

So why the dramatic drop? Is this phenomenon unique to Grimsby, or does it happen more widely as teams adjust their style of play according to the situation? Does Paul Hurst suddenly become a different person when January arrives? Does he tell his players to ‘go easy’on the opposition once we edge in front?

For this to happen so consistently over four years makes me believe something is occurring. This suggests, with some clarity, that we play more cautiously when taking the lead in matches after Christmas. Hurst is changing his approach – consciously or unconsciously, whether he likes to admit it or not.

What is he changing? How is he changing it? Why is he changing it? Like my running in the field with the neighbours’ dog at midnight, this story is missing a few vital pieces.

But there’s one common denominator in all of this, and that’s the transfer window. We emerge the other side a slightly different team, season after season.